Mules seldom incorporate token, medal, or nonsense dies

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Published : 11/16/13
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In the numismatic world, a mule is a hybrid design born of mismatched dies. Such hybrids are rare and highly sought after by collectors.

Among U.S. coins, some mules have achieved legendary status. The most prominent of these would be the 14 Sacagawea dollar planchets struck by a Washington quarter dollar obverse die and a Sacagawea dollar reverse die.

Particularly fascinating are those mules that display a design on one face that was never intended for a coin. The design could be that of a token, medal, counterstamp or cancellation die.

Probably the best known example among foreign coins is the 2000 Canada Millennium series “Map Mule” 25-cent coin. The obverse is the one normally used for this series and features the bust of Queen Elizabeth. The reverse face of each coin carries a design normally seen on the Royal Canadian Mint medal that accompanies the 12-coin 25-cent piece Mint set produced in that year. The design features a map of Canada constructed from maple leaves.

All evidence indicates that this mule was the result of human error and not a “midnight special.” They are relatively numerous (more than 400 by some estimates) and they were found in Mint sets distributed through normal channels.

The second mule presented here is no accident. It’s a 2006 ringed-bimetallic Chile 100-peso coin that pairs a normal reverse design with the whimsical image of an owl wearing a bow tie and tuxedo. The two designs are in medal alignment (both designs pointing north). Chilean coins are normally struck in coin alignment (designs pointing toward opposite cardinal directions).

This coin was acquired and aggressively investigated by Jeff Ylitalo, who reported the results of his investigation in his “Bi-Metallic Mania” column published in the January/February 2008 issue of Errorscope.

Through dogged detective work, Jeff tracked the owl motif to the Bingo Begui gambling casino located in the city of Berazategui, Argentina. Presumably, someone smuggled a casino token die into the Santiago (Chile) Mint and installed it in a press set up to strike 100-peso coins.

Our last example comes from error dealer Fred Weinberg, who allowed me to inspect it during the August 2013 American Numismatic Association convention held in Rosemont, Ill. It combines a Kennedy half dollar reverse design with an incuse obverse design consisting of a few geometric shapes. Six short, thick, evenly-spaced rods point radially toward the coin’s center. A symbol that looks like the letter “U” sits between two of the rods. The meaning of these symbols is entirely opaque. Faint patterns can be discerned in the floor of each impression, but I could not determine what, if anything, they represent.

The reverse face is weakly struck. The raised elements studding the surface of the opposing nonsense die provided the only resistance to the impact of the normal reverse die.

It’s difficult to declare any weak strike genuine, as there are so few areas where microscopic die characteristics are clearly shown. Nevertheless, in this case I can voice no strong objection to assertions of authenticity. The reverse design looks convincing in those scattered areas where the edge of the design meets a well-struck field. Moreover, this coin was part of a large lot of indisputably genuine Mint errors, all from the Denver Mint. Finally, this particular half dollar was just one occupant of a stack of bizarre half dollar errors. All of them were weakly struck, but incorporated other unexpected features. Some showed the same pattern of geometric shapes, but much more weakly impressed and mixed with normal raised reverse design elements. Several were multi-struck, with rotation between strikes. Finally, several of the half dollars were weakly struck, multi-struck, two-tailed mules.

It’s entirely possible that these half dollars were the result of backroom shenanigans by Denver Mint employees.

Coin World’s Collectors’ Clearinghouse department does not accept coins or other items for examination without prior permission from
News Editor William T. Gibbs. Materials sent to Clearinghouse without prior permission will be returned unexamined. Please address all Clearinghouse inquiries to cweditor@coinworld.com or to 800-673-8311, Ext. 172.

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